75 pages • 2 hours readMegan E. Freeman
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Alone is a middle-grade speculative novel in verse published in 2021 by American author Megan E. Freeman. Written in poems narrated by the 12-year-old protagonist, Maddie, Alone explores how Maddie manages to survive, as well as cope with crushing isolation, after her hometown is mysteriously abandoned overnight. With no humans around, Maddie comes to connect in new ways with animals, nature, books, herself, and even the memories of her friends and family who accidentally left her behind. This coming-of-age survival novel focuses on practical tasks as well as the ultimately more daunting mental tasks that come with isolation.
This guide refers to the paperback edition published in 2021 by Aladdin.
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Alone is told through poems written in first-person present tense, the speaker being the novel’s protagonist, Maddie. In the prologue, Maddie is 15 years old and has been living alone in her abandoned hometown for three years. In Part 1, time flashes back to the start of her story. Maddie, who has not been left behind yet, is 12 years old and living for the week with her mother, stepfather, baby half-brother, and twin younger stepbrothers. Every other week, she switches to living with her dad and stepmom. Although Maddie loves her brothers and babysits often, she is struggling in her relationships with the adults in her life in part due to the changes the divorce has brought.
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Maddie is excited for an upcoming secret slumber party with two friends, Ashanti and Emma, which they will have at her grandparents’ vacant apartment. The day of the slumber party, Maddie lies to her parents, telling each side of her family she is with the other side for the night. However, neither Ashanti nor Emma can make it. Maddie, despite her disappointment, decides to enjoy her time alone with no chores.
In the night, Maddie hears what she believes are people breaking into the apartment, so she hides, only to hear the voice of a neighbor saying that this apartment is only occupied part-time and is vacant. The people leave, and Maddie falls back to sleep. When she wakes, her phone has an emergency alert reporting an “imminent threat,” instructing people to listen to local authorities. Maddie’s parents have both left voicemails making it clear they believe she’s with the other parent, telling her they’ll all reconnect when they arrive at their unspecified “destination.” Texts from Ashanti and Emma say they hope they’re on the same “transports” or taken to the same “shelters.”
Maddie calls and texts everyone but receives no answer, and nobody appears to be outside. The news reports an evacuation of the western part of the United States due to an unspecified “imminent threat,” with people being taken to temporary shelters elsewhere in the country. Maddie doesn’t learn where her own family is being taken. Maddie cautiously ventures out to find empty suitcases strewn about, and she soon discovers bins of everyone’s cell phones at the bus station, including her parents’ phones. This discovery suggests that her parents likely don’t even realize she’s missing yet.
Maddie returns to her mother’s home, finding the door left open, and at first, she is comforted hearing the sounds of local pets at night, as she is certain everyone will return soon for their animals. Within her first days alone, Maddie finds the neighbor’s dog, George, and takes him home to live with her. Soon the electricity gives out, taking the internet and running water with it. Maddie and George begin to scavenge for food, water, and supplies to survive. As months pass and nobody returns, Maddie grows lonely. She starts visiting the homes of friends and family for comfort, and she regrets ever being rude to her parents and stepparents. On her 13th birthday, Maddie puts on her mother’s fancy dress and jewelry, but when a coyote appears in the yard, she changes and cuts her hair, deciding that it’s time for her to become an adult if she wants to survive.
As her first winter approaches, Maddie decides to learn to drive her mother’s minivan to help herself prepare. With George, she moves to her dad’s house for winter because it has a wood stove. Though she considers driving the van out of town to look for other people, it’s ultimately too great a risk. She has only a third of a tank of gas; she might encounter the “imminent threat” if she ventures out; and if all of the western United States was evacuated, she could easily end up lost and stranded. Moreover, her father always told her to stay put if she got lost while camping. Maddie survives the long winter without electricity or human company, staying indoors and reading with George. Spring gives her new hope.
Maddie sees other humans only once while she is scavenging for supplies. Frightened by their leader’s angry voice and violence toward another member of his team, she hides, watching them steal from abandoned businesses. As she debates reaching out to them, one man asks to keep a kitten he found as a pet. When the leader kills the kitten in response, Maddie decides not to speak to them, and even after they drive back onto the interstate, she stays cautious for weeks. On finding a gun and ammunition in a store, Maddie decides that she could bring herself to shoot these men in self-defense, if necessary, so she begins to practice shooting and reads about gun safety.
While out exploring one day, Maddie and George find a half-built neighborhood with only one finished “model home.” The term sparks Maddie’s old anger about the prejudices her family faced due to having divorced parents, and she throws a stone through its big front window. As she mulls over her memories, George warns her about an approaching tornado. They flee to the model home for shelter, the only option available, and Maddie cuts her leg badly while getting inside. Though they both survive, Maddie has to use a crutch for some time afterward, and she soon develops a fever when the wound becomes infected despite her best efforts to sterilize it. She imagines her grandparents caring for her as they used to while she recovers.
Another fall and winter pass. Maddie reads over a hundred novels from the library, but she starts to get fed up with fiction, as too few heroines face her challenges with loneliness. The following spring, Maddie leaves George safe inside and rides her bike alone to a neighboring town to check for other survivors. Though she finds no humans, a pack of dogs nearly attacks her. Though she manages to distract them with food and defends herself with a fire extinguisher, she is shaken by what a close call it was.
As Maddie and George rest in her mother’s house, well prepared for winter, lightning strikes a tree nearby. The resulting fire sweeps down that side of the street, and Maddie is only able to save her backpack before getting them out. Back in her father’s house, heartbroken at the loss of her mother’s home, Maddie searches for any evidence of her mother that might have survived. She finds postcards written by her mom and her brother’s old book report. In a flash of rage, she smashes all the house’s cups and plates against a cement wall in the backyard before regaining self-control. Not long after, Maddie has brief success with planting a garden with some fresh vegetables. However, the next disaster is flooding, and Maddie almost drowns in a stream that becomes a river.
Maddie’s 15th birthday passes, but she does not celebrate. She starts reading poetry at the library, which asks questions that prompt her to reconsider her situation and attitude. Slowly, she beings to embrace nature and to find meaning in what was left behind with her, including animals and plants.
The story concludes as Maddie spots a helicopter. Still cautious because of the looters, she hides and follows the people who disembark at a distance. However, when the group stops in front of the burned ashes of her mother’s house, Maddie recognizes her parents. She is overjoyed. She and George leave with them on the helicopter, unconcerned about where they are going next.